Screwing with Wonder

Just back from the walk and my fingers aren’t keen on bending. It’s cold out there! Not too windy, happily.

Earlier today I was reading a BBC article about a new Channel 4 show, and as the day’s gone on it’s annoyed me more and more. The first I heard of the show were the brief adverts during last night’s Lost, which showed a starry backdrop and the words ‘Space Cadets: Coming Soon’. Being into space and astronomy generally, I made a mental note to find out more about it. Then, unfortunately, I did.

It doesn’t start off well. The first image I saw was Johnny Vaughn in a spacesuit. If you lined up all the television presenters I don’t like in a long row and asked me to wipe any three of them from existence, I’d zap Johnny Vaughn three times, just to be sure. Even if Eamonn Holmes was there. I often place people onto the Johnny Vaughn Scale of Annoying, for only he could be the namesake1. So that’s not good.

Then, though, I discovered the concept of the programme:

Space Cadets, which will air next month, will tell nine people they are to visit space thanks to a Russian tourism agency.

They will be told they are being taken to a Russian training base – but it will, in fact, be a secret UK location

So they’re going to be launched from the UK? That’s a little strange, I didn’t know the UK had manned launch capability. Unless, of course…

Channel 4 executives have admitted the joke could be on them if the participants cotton on to the stunt.

Their shuttle will be a Hollywood creation, made originally for the Clint Eastwood film Space Cowboys, with sounds created by a special effects specialist.

A custom-built screen just outside the shuttle will attempt to provide the illusion of a view of Earth.

It’s all a big lie. Four people will be told they’re going into space, but it won’t be real. That’s just bloody appalling. Firstly, I think it’s a horrible thing to do. If Channel 4 told me I was going into space I’d be (pardon the pun) over the moon! I have no idea how realistic the simulation would be, but I’d be crushed if I discovered that the whole point was to make people laugh at me. Secondly, you’d have to be pretty sadistic to find this entertaining, imho. Let’s look at the selection criteria:

They were selected because they showed a trait of “suggestibility” during psychological testing, said Channel 4.

as well as…

But producers will not have to recreate weightlessness because the contestants are to be told their orbit will take them to Near Space, not Deep Space, where they could experience the sensation.

…and…

About one fifth of what they learn in preparation will be fiction but the remainder will be based on genuine training techniques.

So the premise is: let’s laugh at people who don’t know any better.

What’s the point? To take some people who dream of going into space, tell lies and watch them make a spectacle of themselves while people poke fun? Pop Idol shatters people’s dreams, but at least they know what they’re letting themselves in for. If you go to the website, the tagline is ‘Boldly Going Nowhere’. That’s not funny, it’s just pathetic.

The crazy thing is that a programme about training people for spaceflight would probably be quite interesting! For people like me, anyway. I’d happily watch people train in the ‘vomit comet’ – the plane that flies in a parabola for over a minute, mimicking freefall so that those inside experience ‘weightlessness’2 – or in the underwater tanks, or the centrifuge…I’m sure that with the right format it could be fascinating.

I accept the possibility that this may be a stunt of some kind. C4 did this once before, didn’t they? I forget what it was exactly, but the basic idea was ‘volunteers wanted to ogle strippers for a month!’ and then the interviews were broadcast. This isn’t quite the same, but maybe we don’t know the full story. Maybe I’m playing right into their hands here – I hope so. If not, though…

This is a terrible thing to do. It’s crass, sadistic and appeals to the very worst in human nature. Screwing around with people’s wonder is like taking toys from a child for no good reason – should we put that on television? Shame on you, Channel 4.

  1. admittedly, it’s been on the cusp of changing to the Johnny Vegas scale from time to time, but JV has held on []
  2. this is how Apollo 13 was filmed – it took hundreds of flights! []